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Dining Out Sustainably: Thai Fresh

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Sometimes I miss the most obvious things. I first met Jam Sanitchat, chef and owner of Thai Fresh, at the Downtown Austin Farmers Market where she had a booth. I loved what I bought and how committed she was to sustainable food.

090209_1Then, I started following Thai Fresh (@thaifresh) on Twitter and I would see the tantalizing dishes Jam was making every day. I would be drooling on my keyboard and yet I never wandered down to the restaurant.
Today, I finally rectified this mistake with my friend Lyssa. We headed to Thai Fresh for lunch
and I discovered a sustainable foodie wonderland.
You are immediately greeted by the most delightful aromas of curry, chili peppers and kaffir lime leaves. Oh, it smells so good.
I was early so I wandered through the store. Thai Fresh is a restaurant, but it also offers carry out and they sell all the products they use. You can buy everything from green peppercorn to shrimp paste to the fresh farm produce Jam uses in the dishes.
The cold case is packed with the dishes of the day – there were at least a dozen to pick from when we were there. They offer plates with one, two or three items from the case to be served with rice.

090209_3It was very hard to narrow down our choices to three, but somehow we managed and, of course, shared. Everything was delicious and when a dish really strikes your fancy, you can then buy some to take home.
Thai Fresh also offers cooking classes so that you can learn how to make your own scrumptious Thai food at home.

We had such a good time at lunch that it was difficult to tear ourselves away. We were so relaxed, full and happy. I can’t wait to visit again.
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Dining Out Sustainably: Get Sum Dim Sum

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072409_1One of my challenges when visiting a new restaurant is trying to narrow down my choices. I love Tapas and Dim Sum because you can order several small things and sharing is an understood part of the deal; no awkward sideways glances from your dining partner when you want to try a bit of their dishes. In our family, you can get stabbed with a fork trying to sneak something off of someone else’s plate.

I was excited when I heard that Foo Swasdee, owner of Satay and a longtime promoter of sustainable food, was opening a Dim Sum restaurant. Get Sum Dim Sum is located at 4400 N. Lamar in the spot formerly occupied by Panda Express. (I was delighted to see a sub par chain restaurant replaced by a locally owned restaurant.)
072409_2When you walk in the door, you are greeted by an employee who explains the format. Don’t skip this step on your first trip. You’re going to need the help picking your meal as it might be the toughest thing you do that day.
You can either order one of their combo meals including 3 different choices of their top 10 dumplings, sho mai, baos and specials or you can order a la carte from a longer list of treats. My friend Sandy and I decided to go with the combo meals rather than navigate the a la carte menu on our first visit. Between the two of us, we had 3 different types of dumplings, the pork bun, the Thursday braised pork and tofu special, fried rice and a sesame ball. And, it was all delicious.
072409_3The dumplings arrive in small stacked steamer baskets and were perfectly cooked. I particularly enjoyed the shrimp dumplings. The pork in the bao has a scrumptious sauce with a hint of cinnamon and stands up well to the surrounding fluffy dough.

072409_4I was surprised how much I enjoyed the braised pork and tofu. I was initially hesitant to order it because I’m not a huge tofu fan as it can sometimes have a slimy texture. Not this tofu; it was firm and tasty. I had a hard time sharing it, but I did manage to spoon over a few bites for Sandy.

The only negative thing about Get Sum Dim Sum is that it is way to close to my house. I’m looking forward to my next visit and have already picked out at least two dishes that I can’t wait to try. Thank goodness it’s walking distance so that I can work off my meal on the way there and back.
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Dining Out Sustainably: Shoreline Grill

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061009_1Shoreline Grill has been a mainstay of the Austin dining scene for twenty years and I have always enjoyed it, but it was never one of those places that I went out of my way to visit. It just always felt safe and, well, not very exciting.

Plus, there is the whole issue around what seafood is okay to eat and what isn’t. If you aren’t familiar with the debate of overfishing and sustainability, check out the article from Mark Bittman of the New York Times. So, when I was invited to the Shoreline recently for a tasting, I thought “sure, why not,” but I wasn’t too fired up about it.

Executive Chef Scotty Szekretar shook up all my incorrect preconceptions. (And I learned my lesson about being open-minded.) Since joining the restaurant in January, he has completely re-worked the menu with fresh, innovative dishes. One of my favorite starters was a sushi roll that had a cooked potato wrapper – fun, unusual and tasty.
061009_2More importantly to me, he’s made these significant changes while working to support local farms and purveyors and offer responsible choices on their menu. First, the restaurant has become a partner with Seafood Watch, meaning that they only work with sustainable seafood sources and do not offer fish on the red list. That’s huge! And, they are the only restaurant in Texas to build that sort of partnership. (That doesn’t mean that other restaurants aren’t using similar practices, but that they haven’t reached out to formalize the relationship.)

It would have been easy for Shoreline to stop there, but Chef Szekretar is working with local farms (Countryside Family Farms, John Lash of Farm to Table [no relation to this blog], Bluebonnet Hydroponic Produce, and Brazos Valley Cheese to name a few) to bring fresh, local ingredients to the restaurant.
Shoreline Grill is still a great mainstay in Austin with a beautiful view of Lady Bird Lake, and now it offers food that is as thoughtful and interesting as that view.
Go enjoy an interesting, delicious, sustainable meal.
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Dining Out Sustainably: Blue Dahlia

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053009_1Sometimes, you really should listen to other people’s advice. For months, my friends have been insisting that I try Blue Dahlia Bistro, and I finally had the opportunity last Friday. This gem of a restaurant is tucked away on East 11th, 1115 E. 11th, near Primzie Osteria, the Longbranch Inn and the Victory Grill.

The first thing that struck me about Blue Dahlia is that, with both a front and back patio, there are plenty of places to enjoy your meal al fresco. I love discovering a new place where you can sit outside and enjoy a meal.

053009_2But, they really had me when I opened the menu. Tucked among the listing for tartines (open-faced sandwiches), salads and breakfast offerings was their mission. A mission! I’m a sucker for someone with a mission, particularly when their mission includes serving organic products whenever possible and making choices that have a positive impact on our community and environment. I love it!

The food was delicious, the atmosphere was inviting and by eating at Blue Dahlia I am supporting a business that wants to do good in our lovely home. Returning to Blue Dahlia will be an easy choice.
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